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“Action Botanical Garden”: The first major guerilla action in Zagreb

On 4 August 1941, around midday, in Runjaninova Street in Zagreb, directly next to the city’s Botanical Garden, bomb explosions rang out. The Ustasha authorities immediately declared a curfew and closed all city roads in the centre of the city.

 

It was the first major armed attack on Ustasha troops in Zagreb. Even before this action, Zagreb’s “illegals” organised various subversive actions, but mostly on the outskirts of the city and never before with such ferocity, in the centre of the city and in the middle of the day.

 

The action was organised by the Local Committee of the Communist Party of Croatia. It was supposed to be an answer to the Ustasha authorities, after the failed breakout of Ustasha prisoners from the Kerestinec prison, near Zagreb, which ended tragically for the communists, Serbs and Jews imprisoned there.

 

Despite arrests, the underground communist movement in Zagreb was not destroyed. On this day of 4 August 1941, the attack was carried out with bombs and revolvers against the guard of Ustasha University Battalion who were leaving the Students’ Dorm in Runjinova Street. The sabotage group consisted of 12 students and workers, members of Zagreb’s illegal anti-fascist resistance, and were led by the student Slavko Komar.  They threw bombs, but had to retreat in the face of Ustaša machine gun fire from the Botanic Garden. 28 members of the Ustasha University Battalion were wounded in the action.

 

The retaliation of the Ustasha authorities was extremely cruel. All the arrested participants of the action were sentenced to death by firing squad by the Senate of the mobile court. The verdict was executed the same day. Another 98 Jews and communists were sentenced to death as “accomplices and intellectual initiators of that attack”.

This large action was also reported by Radio-Moscow, which stated that 305 people were shot in retaliation.

 

A plaque commemorating this action was placed in Runjaninova Street with the inscription: In the middle of the day on August 4, 1941, a group of youth raised by the KPJ in this place attacked a company of Ustasha students with bombs. On that occasion, 28 fascists and traitors were killed and wounded. On the occasion of the SKOJ congress, the Local Committee of the SKOJ Zagreb raised this plaque.”

 

In the 1990s, after the end of Socialist Yugoslavia, the new governmental authorities tried to remove the plaque with the explanation that “innocent” high school students were wounded in the action.

 

Nataša Mataušić

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